Ricketts’s remark came in response to a question if illegal immigrants employed at such facilities would be part of groups of workers getting inoculated under Nebraska’s vaccination program.
“Illegal immigrants are not permitted to work in those facilities, so I don’t think that will be a problem,” he said.
In light of reports that illegal immigrants account for a proportion of meatpacking industry labor, The Epoch Times reached out to Ricketts’s office, asking whether officials plan to take any specific steps to prevent illegal immigrant workers from getting vaccines when they are made available to meatpacking plant populations. No reply was received by the time of publication.
Nebraska’s meatpacking industry is the biggest in America, employing tens of thousands of people, with immigrant labor a key constituent. According to some reports, illegal immigrants account for a significant proportion of workers in such plants.
“Most are brown-skinned. Many don’t speak English. Some are undocumented,” reads a June 2020 piece in the Omaha World-Herald, which delves into the dynamics of immigrant labor in Nebraska’s meatpacking industry.
“It has been immigrants all the time who have been essential workers,” said Sergio Sosa, executive director of the Heartland Workers Center in South Omaha, in remarks to the news outlet. “These essential workers became invisible. Because of COVID-19, they’ve become visible again.”
The outbreak of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, the pathogen that causes the disease COVID-19, cast a spotlight on the nation’s meat processing industry. After nearly two dozen meat plants closed in April after workers contracted COVID-19, plant owners and farmers warned of possible meat shortages on store shelves. This led to President Donald Trump designating meatpacking plants as part of critical infrastructure and essentially ordering them stay open to protect the nation’s food supply amid the pandemic.
Workers in the meatpacking industry typically work in close proximity to one another and congregate in common areas, posing an increased risk of virus transmission. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a July report that “meat and poultry processing facilities face distinctive challenges in the control of infectious diseases,” including COVID-19, and that outbreaks in meatpacking plants can rapidly affect large numbers of people. The CDC recommended targeted interventions—including worker temperature or symptom screening, added hand hygiene stations, and physical barriers between workers—to help curb the spread of the virus among workers in meat processing plants.
According to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, more than 44,500 COVID-19 cases and 232 deaths have been linked to meat processing plants across the United States, with over 5,200 of those cases and 22 deaths associated with 23 plants in Nebraska.
Immigration groups, and others, have expressed support for the COVID-19 vaccine to be made available to illegal immigrants on the premise that excluding them would put all Americans at higher risk of infection.
Angie Ling, Department of Health and Human Services incident commander, said that 86,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been delivered to Nebraska, while local news outlet KETV cited Ling as saying 36,000 people in the state have already received a shot.